Something went wrong in the 1960s and 70s. It wasn’t just men’s hair which quickly morphed from the short back and sides and Elvis quiff era, through the mop-top Fab Four phase to the full-length twelve-disciples-including-beard look. It wasn’t the advent of the Mini – in both skirt or car; or come to that, the Maxi. (Who can forget that ultimate in style and class – the Austin Maxi?) Neither was it the fact that England didn’t follow up it’s footballing triumph of 1966 by failing to win the World Cup in 1970.
No, it was none of those things. What really went wrong in the 1960s and 70s was the introduction of plastic parts in British-built pianos. Particularly the plastic flange.
It must have seemed like a good idea at the time. Fierce competition from the Far-East had thrown our sterling piano industry into disarray. Manufacturers needed to do something in order to compete with the cheap imported instruments flooding in from countries such as Japan. The Japanese pianos were not only cheaper than ours they were better.
Old, long-established British firms began closing left, right and centre. Big names of just a few years back were now regularly disappearing in mergers and takeovers. Then, one stormy night at a desperate board meeting of Amalgamated British Pianomakers, which had lasted into the wee small hours, a group of boffins presented their rescue plan – to replace all the traditional wooden flanges, that literally have a pivotal role in the operation of the working parts in a piano, with plastic ones! The idea was revolutionary and it would save quite a few pence off the manufacturing cost of a piano. Well every little helps!
Of course there were many other factors which contributed to the decline of the piano industry: social change; housing styles; music tastes and the boom in consumer goods and electronics, not just competition from overseas. Nevertheless the plastic flange was born.
If only it worked as well as the wooden one and didn’t split all the time or wear out so rapidly. If only those boffins had come up with something else. (They did – see later posts)Now many piano owners are left with the legacy of that meeting on that stormy night; and okay, not all our pianos from that era have these flanges fitted and of those that do, some give very good reliable service; but they’re still a pain when they go wrong.
Plastic flanges are no longer obtainable as parts and their dimensions differ from the wooden ones which are still used and available but unfortunately don’t fit. In the photo the green arrows point to the white plastic flanges. For every note there will be four flanges fitted if you include the damper.
The Plastic Flange Identity – See green arrows.
A broken plastic flange.